Mike Oldfield’s music is particularly outstanding because of the way he explores different sounds and ideas. His most famous work, “Tubular Bells,” which most people might remember from the soundtrack of The Exorcist, is an excellent example of how Oldfield took a relatively little-known instrument and turned it into a sound that made it to the mainstream of the music scene. Following up on the success of Tubular Bells and his sequel (Tubular Bells II), Mike Oldfield created a fantastic album inspired by the 1986 novel by Arthur C. Clarke, The Songs of Distant Earth. This release was loosely inspired by the novel, but Oldfield didn’t really just want to retell the story in the same way as the book did. For this reason, he didn’t script the album to follow the plot but rather used the settings of the story as a way to get inspiration from its sci-fi settings and beautiful space-like vibes.
It was 1994 when I actually bought this CD. I remember being really excited, already being a Mike Oldfield fan! The album immediately made its way into my heart with its magical soundscapes and unique atmosphere. My brother and I actually would put on this record practically every night before going to sleep. It was our way to relax and set ourselves up for a dreamy night, kind of like floating into space, as the title might suggest.
What I love about the album is that the sci-fi sounds really influenced Oldfield to use certain types of instruments. For example, he didn’t really use the folk-inspired instruments he was famous for because they really wouldn’t fit well with the sci-fi concepts of the album. The first track, “In The Beginning,” features some amazing ambient sounds and some spoken word segments that create an immersive experience for the listener. The song “Let There Be Light” features some simple yet beautifully expressive synth pads and guitar lines, giving the track a new-age feel. With songs like Supernova and Magellan, Oldfield explored some magnificent album soundscapes, with a great combination of field recording samples and futuristic synth swells, giving the music a very inspiring and oneiric texture.
The song “First Landing” is one of the most iconic tracks on this release, and it combines hypnotic beats with some high-pitched oscillator sounds. “Oceania” and “Only Time Will Tell” are two amazing compositions with a distinctive sound, at times renascent of artists such as Robert Fripp and Bill Frisell, only to mention a few.
The electric guitar and ethnic music influences reign supreme on “Prayer for the Earth,” a song so beautiful it just makes you want to close your eyes. The following track, “Lament for Atlantis,” has a very cinematic texture, and it feels like a truly one-of-a-kind addition to this amazing album. “The Chamber” dives deeper into ambient music influences, with a lush, understated arrangement. “Hibernaculum” is a truly special track, and it is not surprising that it is one of the most popular on the album. The song might remind you of acts such as Enigma or Vangelis due to its unique combination of electronic drums and choral vocal patterns. There is also an appearance of the famous Tubular Bells in the song “Tubular World,” an old fan—favorite.
“The Shining Ones” is one of the most experimental songs on this release, and it was quite forward-thinking for its time! The same can be said for “Crystal Clear,” which features some distinctive beats over some classic FM synth sounds. “The Sunken Forest” is one of the most immersive atmospheric moments on the album (no pun intended, given the underwater sound effects!), and “Ascension is definitely out there in terms of creating an uplifting, joyful moment that’s incredibly inspiring and galvanizing.
Lastly, the album ends with a new beginning, quite literally, as the final track is titled “A New Beginning” and highlights the hopefulness of being able to start over.